On May 16th the Red Alert Helpline received a call from a village in West Bengal claiming that a 13-14 year old girl was to be married off and that we must come stop it. The wedding date, she said, had been fixed for May 22nd. Operation Red Alert treats every Child Marriage case with the urgency of a potential trafficking case, and our team immediately activated our local Implementing Partners Sabuj Sangha to provide localized support.
On May 17th Sabuj Sangha reached the village, and started by obtaining proof of age of the minor girl, Jaanvi*. They did not connect with the caller to ensure her anonymity was protected for her safety, so the proof of age was obtained from the school. Jaanvi, it turned out was 15 years old and indeed set to be married within a week. Indian law forbids marriage for girls below the age of 18, so with the school-verified proof of age, Sabuj Sandha went to the village Panchayat (leader) and government Development Officer to get their support in approaching the parents and educating them. Fortunately, both the Panchayat and Development Officer agreed to go accompany the visit to Jaanvi’s parents.
Sabuj Sangha was able to educate the parents the Indian legal restrictions protecting girls from child marriage, as well as the dangers to the health, education and long term wellness of girls who get married too early. With the support of the Panchayat and Development Officer, they were able to convince Jaanvi’s parents that marriage was not the right choice for their daughter and get their written agreement that they will not get her married, but keep her in school until completion.
Jaanvi will head back to school when it reopens after summer holidays on June 12th, and has the commitment of her parents as well as local leadership that she will stay there until she graduates. With the backing of local leadership as well as local NGO Sabuj Sangha, Jaanvi can be confident that her parents will not succumb to societal or economic pressures to send their daughter off.
After school reopens, Operation Red Alert Implementing Partner Sabuj Sandha will follow up to ensure that Jaanvi is in school and thriving.
In this case, we do not have information on whether the marriage Jaanvi was headed for was legitimate or a trafficking threat. The reality is that many rural child marriages either immediately or eventually result in trafficking and forced sexual exploitation. We are proud of our Helpline team and Implementing Partner Sabuj Sangha for their quick work to help Jaanvi, and each of the other cases they regularly receive.
Operation Red Alert conducted a Safe Village Program in Jaavni’s village back on 24 March, 2017. The call about Jaavni’s child marriage came in 2 months later. These stories encourage us that our grassroots education is effective and long lasting in creating change in the villages it reaches.